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Toward an Equitable Deep Sea Future

Tremendous changes are not only possible; they are on the near horizon. With technological advancements toward broader access to the deep sea and a global call for increased access to tools and training we now have the ability to establish more deep-sea capacity worldwide.

Published onSep 12, 2022
Toward an Equitable Deep Sea Future

We documented global deep-sea inequity…

Present-day deep-sea exploration and research is expensive and therefore largely exclusive to high-income regions, countries, and individuals. Expertise, however, is widespread. In many locations, including low-income, middle-income, or Small Island Developing States, there is often in-country expertise severely constrained by a lack of access to deep-sea tools. 

…because equity is at the heart of protecting the ocean.

The global inequities highlighted by this assessment are deeply problematic for several reasons. They result in exploration, research, and conservation agendas dominated and shaped by those from high-resource areas or regions. They limit humankind's ability to explore the deep ocean from a scientific perspective, resulting in a rate of research that is too slow to understand and mitigate the pressures we are already placing on this fragile environment. They prevent many nations and regions from advancing sustainable ocean-based economies that create jobs and support livelihoods. And, they exclude individuals from being inspired by the aesthetic, spiritual, emotional, and historical value of the deep ocean so they may become its custodians. Equity is at the heart of protecting the wonder and health of the ocean.

Transformative change is on the horizon…

Today, tremendous changes are not only possible; they are on the near horizon. With technological advancements toward broader access to the deep sea and a global call for increased access to tools and training, we now have the ability to create more deep-sea capacity and assess progress throughout the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and beyond. The 2022 Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment is a benchmark that can now be used to share these opportunities and galvanize change.

Diverse and innovative approaches led by local communities are needed to accelerate and expand our ability to explore the ocean at scale. This assessment showed that no two locations were the same, from local challenges and opportunities to technologies and physical environments. For needs and priorities to be fully understood, focused needs assessments must be conducted to create tailored, multi-pronged approaches to successfully build lasting deep-sea capacity [1].

Where partnerships are needed to facilitate change, they should be genuine, durable, equitable, sustainable, and responsive to locally-identified needs [1][2]. These should also be co-designed, co-developed, and co-implemented through meaningful engagement and information-sharing to build a shared understanding of the objectives, aims, and desired outcomes. Sufficient time and resources must be allocated to establish effective and long-term relationships based on mutual trust and respect [1][2][3]. They should also be accountable, inclusive, and transparent with periodic monitoring and evaluation to ensure learning from experience [1][2][3].

…and we all have a role to play.

At Ocean Discovery League, we are using this assessment to develop ways to help close the gaps in access to tools, training, and infrastructure for deep-sea exploration and research. We are working with partners around the world on the development of: 1) low-cost, easy-to-use deep-sea data collection systems, 2) artificial intelligence-driven data analysis systems, and 3) training programs for communities to enhance their ability to work in the deep ocean. We are encouraged that our work aligns with the top three opportunities for deep-sea exploration and research identified by 360 survey respondents from 124 countries and territories: training opportunities, less expensive data collection technologies, and better data access and analysis tools.

Everyone from marine scientists to machine learning engineers to business leaders has a role to play in supporting global deep-sea research and exploration efforts. Whether coding new tools, training new/young deep-sea researchers, or leading an expedition, it will take many skills to achieve these goals. We invite you to visit the Ocean Discovery League to learn more about our current projects and join our efforts. We will also continue to monitor changes in deep-sea capacity over the UN Ocean Decade and beyond by conducting the second Global Deep-Sea Capacity Assessment in 2025-2026 and a third in 2029-2030.

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